When actress Briga Heelan was growing up, she was too shy to express herself.
The star of NBC’s “Great News” said she thinks acting helped her overcome that reticence. “I’ve always had a hard time just being angry or just being really sad — the bigger emotions,” she said.
“I’ve had a harder time expressing them in real life until my adulthood, surely — so I think the thing that attracted me [to acting] as a kid was that not only was I allowed to do that, it was necessary,” said Heelan, who appeared in the sitcoms “Ground Floor,” “Cougar Town” and “Undateable.”
She grew up in Andover, Mass., where her mother was an actress and her father a writer. She said she didn’t consider becoming an actress, she just assumed it.
“It was never ‘I like doing this.’ It felt like I needed to do it. Watching my mom in musicals and singing with her in musicals, and reading my dad’s stuff, and I’d go watch stuff that my dad directed. It was all kind of in the mix from when I was born.”
Although she transferred in her junior year to a performing arts high school, it still wasn’t easy for her to make the transition to professional acting after college.
“I was in New York and was pursuing musical theater, and it didn’t feel right. I felt I was forcing myself to do things and be things that I wasn’t, all the time. I wasn’t listening to what I wanted to do. I was listening to what I thought I should do. So the switch was about putting that stuff down and stop trying to reach for identity and just ask myself, ‘What do you really want? What feels good to you when you’re doing it? And what feels bad to you when you’re doing it? And go where the light is.’ ”
The light, it turns out, was comedy. But Heelan stumbled a few more times before she found it. “I’d moved back to L.A. and was sharing a studio apartment with my friend. We were sleeping in bunk beds and life was great — but we were really doing the L.A.-newbie thing.
“I remember being denied a protein bar that I went in to buy. I was so hungry, and it was before an audition, and I ran in and tried to buy this protein bar. And I checked my bank account and it was negative 17 cents. … And I remember getting on the phone with my mom and laughing that I have negative 17 cents. I said, ‘Mom, can you throw me 5?’ She said, ‘Briga, I’ll throw you more than 5.’ ”
Finding that simplicity she was talking about is even more difficult now. Not only does she play the hassled TV producer on “Great News” (returning Thursday) but she and her writer/actor husband, Rene Gube, have a 6-month-old daughter.
The couple met on TBS’ “Ground Floor,” in which Gube co-starred and wrote three episodes.
“We just became friends and co-workers and got to watch one another and see one another’s different colors, because that comes out when you’re working,” she said. “You’re frustrated, you’re elated, all of these things. So we got to see each other as just ‘people’ before we were romantically involved. I just remember I kept watching him and going, ‘I need someone who makes me laugh like that.’ ‘I need someone who cares for people like that.’ I kept looking at this man going, ‘I need somebody like that,’ ” she said.
“My dad came to the pilot shooting of ‘Ground Floor’ and after my dad spoke to Rene, he came to my dressing room and he said, ‘That guy.’ I said, ‘Oh, Dad, I don’t know.’ And a couple months later it was ‘that guy.’ ”